“I have sent loads of money to my family over the last years and I am tired of spilling almost 10 percent of it down the drain each and every time.” Emile, a young Cameroonian living in Germany, was amazed to find out that there was a provider offering much cheaper transfers than the one he had used before to send money home. “You might say it is easy to find out which money transfer provider offers the best deal. But often it is not: much of the information needed is not easily or not at all accessible and many different products make it hard to make a choice. You go for the provider you’ve always used.”
My summary of recent attempts to quantify the Hawthorne effect a few weeks back led to some useful exchanges with colleagues and commenters who pointed me to further work I hadn’t yet read. It turns out that, historically, there has been a great deal of inconsistent use of the term “Hawthorne effect”. The term has referred not only to (a) behavioral responses to a subject’s knowledge of being observed – the definition we tend to use in impact evaluation – but also to refer to (b) behavioral responses to simple participation in a study, or even (c) a subject’s wish to alter behavior in order to please the experimenter. Of course all these definitions are loosely related, but it is important to be conceptually clear in our use of the term since there are several distinct inferential challenges to impact evaluation arising from the messy nature of behavioral responses to research. The Hawthorne effect is only one of these possible challenges. Let me lay out a classification of different behavioral responses that, if and when they occur, may threaten the validity of any evaluation (with a strong emphasis on may).
These days, if you are looking for a new cellphone and wondering which one to buy, there are many reliable sources to turn to: a recent copy of Consumer Reports is a good start, for one. But if you are choosing a school for your child, possibly one of the most significant investments you can make, an informed decision can be far more elusive. While you may hear of the school’s reputation, learn what others think, or visit the school, unlike phones, it is often difficult to know just how good a school really is. As consumers of educational services, we often find ourselves largely ‘in the dark’.